Robert Moor didn’t set out to be a public speaker.
And yet here he is, the author of the New York Times Bestseller “On Trails — An Exploration,” getting ready for yet another speech. This time, he’ll be addressing the 16th Annual Weber Pathways Author Dinner in Ogden.
“It’s kind of a side gig,” Moor recently told the Standard-Examiner of his occasional dabbling on the speaking circuit. “When you write a book, you don’t think you’ll be a public speaker. And I get terribly nervous every time I have to speak.”
Moor’s fear of public speaking is rooted in a bad experience he had with a speech contest back in the sixth grade.
“I procrastinated preparing, and never wrote the speech,” Moor admits. “So I held some blank note cards and pretended to be reading from them. But within 45 seconds my mind went blank, and I was dragged off stage by an English teacher who was quite angry about it. … I’m just now getting over the experience.”
Moor will take another shot a public speaking at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 15, at Timbermine Steakhouse, 1701 Park Blvd. The evening will include food, music and storytelling.
The author of “On Trails” admits he hasn’t had a chance to do much hiking in Utah, other than a little in her national parks. And while Moor will be spending five days in Utah surrounding his Weber Pathways appearance, most of that time will that spent interviewing people for his next book, “In Trees.” It’s part of an envisioned trilogy that will conclude with “Among Constellations.”
In addition to researching his next book, Moor continues to write magazine pieces, and he’s working on a podcast that he can’t yet talk about.
“It’s a secret,” he says.
And Moor says he’s currently working on a novel as well.
The topic for Friday’s presentation is “The Wisdom of Trails.” Moor calls it a big theme that attempts to incorporate the wisdom of hiking trails into our lives, businesses and other endeavors in life.
“In my mind, wisdom is constantly evolving,” Moor said. “It improves with each person through whose hands it passes, and trails are a perfect, physical metaphor for that. Everyone is trying to cross the trail in the best way possible.”
The metaphor of the path is a powerful one, according to Moor, and it’s one that resonates with most of us. He says people will write to him explaining how his book about trails changed their lives.
“One woman said she was at the end of her rope,” he recalls. “Her tone was, ‘I was suicidal, I felt stuck, but I read your book and it shook something loose.’ And that’s not something I expected. I didn’t set out to write something that would inspire in a self-help sort of way.”
Published in 2016, “On Trails” was the recipient of the National Outdoor Book Award, the William Saroyan Prize, and the Pacific Northwest Book Award. It has been translated into 10 languages.
Moor, who today lives in the small community of Halfmoon Bay, in British Columbia, examines the origins and wisdom of trails, how they developed over time, and how they’ve helped developed us in that same time.
The initial idea for a book came to Moor in 2009, when he decided to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, in one five-month marathon — what’s referred to as “thru-hiking.”
“While I was walking it, I kept thinking — as every hiker does — ‘I want to write a book about this, about the Appalachian Trail,’” Moor said. “And my goal was to write a book that would become the only book anyone has ever read.”
At the time, that must-read book about the Appalachian Trail was Bill Bryson’s 2008 autobiographical work “A Walk in the Woods.” (A 2015 film by the same name starred Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.)
Moor says he read Bryson’s book, but admits he didn’t care for it at the time.
“I powerfully disliked it; it had its shortcomings,” Moor said. “But as a writer, I’ve since come to appreciate it. It’s full of a lot of information.”
However, Moor also believed there was plenty more to be written about the Appalachian Trail that Bryson’s book didn’t cover — something that was perhaps a bit more poetic and philosophical.
“I set out to write that book,” he explains.
Moor had started keeping a file on his computer containing “scraps of other information” he’d gathered about all sorts of trails — insect trails, animal trails, human trails. He envisioned including these bits of general trail information in a specific book about one trail, the Appalachian.
“I thought in the prologue there would be this little section about other kinds of trails,” he said. “But I’m obsessively curious, and I just can’t stop myself.”
Moor kept finding more and more of this information, and continued to squirrel it away for his Appalachian Trail book.
“This information kept growing and growing, until it was almost like an iceberg tipping over,” he said. “I suddenly realized the book would be about all kinds of trails, and the Appalachian Trail would be just a part of it. Once that hit me, I had a surge of creativity.”
Moor spent the next seven years traveling the world, exploring trails and conducting interviews with experts in various fields. The result is a 336-page book that has won both critical and commercial acclaim.
The Boston Globe wrote: “Part natural history, part scientific inquiry, but most of all a deeply thoughtful human meditation on how we walk through life, Moor’s book is enchanting.”
The Economist described it: “A wanderer’s dream, even from an armchair.”
And the Sierra Club’s Sierra magazine proclaimed: “The best outdoors book of the year.”
An important part of the take-home lesson from “On Trails” is not merely the way humans and other living creatures create trails, but the ways in which those trails create us.
“When you’re on the Appalachian Trail, you can feel the trail shaping you in very literal ways,” Moor said. “You see yourself growing thinner every day, and you see you pack growing lighter every day. You are streamlining to the trail.”
Moor explains that whatever paths we take in life, they have a profound effect on us. After going through the refining process of the Appalachian Trail, Moor assumed the experience would be forever life-altering.
“Once I got home, I thought I would carry that lesson through to my life and become a minimalist,” he said. “I had two bowls and two spoons. My apartment was totally bare. But over time objects began creeping back in.”
Moor said the same was true of his mental state.
“The trail streamlines you mentally,” he said. “When you’re walking 10 hours a day, you get a very clear mind. But when I was living back in the East Village, and going to grad school, my head became very cluttered again. Even though I had intentioned to be a new person, it didn’t work out that way.”
For Moor, the lesson is unmistakable: “Unless you’re an incredibly stubborn person, the path you walk shapes you. So be careful what paths you follow in life.”